Fuel cells: SolidPower collects 40 million euro to build a factory

3/13/18, 11:00 AM -

At 1.5 kilowatts of electrical power, the BlueGen micro power generator is indeed very strong. And very economic in the use for private homes and commercial applications.

Fuel cells work very good in combination with PV.

BlueGen was developed by SolidPower in Germany. The company has so far installed 1,000 units of this type and can look back on millions of operating hours in the field. In contrast to the Viessmann Vitovalor system, the BlueGen’s solid fuel cell emits almost no waste heat. It can be run as an electricity generating system and there is no need to worry about waste heat.

Electricity generating systems are catching on

In the medium term, electricity generating systems will catch on. Many experts see electricity-generating heating systems with fuel cells as the technology what will replace gas-fired boilers while continuing to operate water-based heating systems. This is taking the short view: heating is only needed during the heating period. If there is sufficient sunlight, the house can be supplied with solar power, which can also provide hot running water.

The fuel cell only comes in when solar power is no longer sufficiently powerful. In this case, however, it does not really make sense to activate a second heating system that transfers heat to the radiators by heating up water at great expense and loss. It would be much easier to heat the spaces via electrical heating surfaces.

The end of water-based heating

The fuel cell heralds the end of water-based heating systems. It is the crucial element for the decarbonisation of building services. The units by Viessmann or SolidPower currently still run on natural gas.

However, in the future, hydrogen produced from solar power will be used, as the Berlin-based company Home Power Solutions demonstrated last year at the Intersolar. Such fuel cells can do without reformers that break down methane into hydrogen. This should make the systems even simpler.

Strong in combination with EVs

Fuel cells really come into their own when combined with cars running on electricity. EVs are usually the largest consumers of a household when plugged into their own charging socket. This increases the baseload, which makes the use of fuel cells more economical. In this case, the homeowner decarbonises not only how he uses the heating, but also his mobility. Emissions from boilers or vehicle engines are a thing of the past, and all three sectors are supplied via the building. This is completely independent for the customers and makes the building the energy hub of families, companies and municipal stakeholders.

40 million euros for a new factory

The fact that fuel cells are becoming interesting to installing companies as a new category of equipment is demonstrated not only by the more than 1,000 units that Viessmann or SolidPower have already installed. A few months ago, SolidPower received strategically important funding of 40 million euros. In the first investment step, production capacities in Italy will be expanded. SolidPower is also investing in further research into solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology.

In total, SolidPower will create around 80 new jobs in Italy by 2020. Together with the factories in Heinsberg (North Rhine-Westphalia), Switzerland and Australia, the company has grown to more than 220 staff. The expansion of production in Italy paves the way for the mass market, which so far has only been achieved by Panasonic.

16,000 BlueGen each year

In 2020, around 16,000 BlueGen power plants are to come off the production line each year. So far, the output has been 1,500 units. This expansion can cost SolidPower a lot of money: Over the next three years, 18.9 million euros will be invested into the expansion of the factories and modern production machinery.

A further 9.1 million euros will be invested in a research project to optimise fuel cells, in cooperation with the Bruno-Kessler-Foundation and the University of Trento. (HS)

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